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Michael Jordan Week: Examining His Personnel Decisions With The Washington Wizards

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If Michael Jordan had solely come to Washington to lace them up one last time, perhaps we would be better able to embrace his final years as a player. Even though they were disappointing in the sense that he wasn't the player we knew from Chicago, we still got to watch the greatest player in the history of basketball play for the Wizards. Only two fan bases get to make that claim, and somehow, we're one of them.

Yet, at the end of the day, it's impossible to separate Jordan's two years as a player from the decisions that he made with the Wizards' personnel. The decisions of Michael Jordan: President of Basketball Operations make it impossible for us to fully enjoy Michael Jordan: The G.O.A.T. After the jump, we'll take a look at where it all went wrong, taking a look at all of his key decisions.

2000 Offseason

Hired Leonard Hamilton as Wizards coach

Jordan gave Hamilton a five year, $10 million contract to coach the Wizards, despite no previous NBA experience. Hamilton was one of the first friend of Jordan to get a spot with the Wizards thanks to a friendship with Jordan, but certainly not the last. He also wasn't the first or only one to struggle mightily in the position Jordan gave them. Hamilton wound up finishing with the lowest winning percentage of any coach in Wizards history who has coached a minimum of 82 games. Grade: F

Selected Mike Smith with the 35th overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft.

To be fair to Jordan, he didn't have a chance to begin his rebuild with a first round pick. Their first rounder had been dealt as part of the deal that brought Chris Webber to the Bullets back in 1994. Had he been able to make the pick, his best choices with the pick were Jamal Crawford (who wouldn't have been chosen with Richard Hamilton already in the fold), Chris Mihm, Joel Pryzbilla and Jerome Moiso, so maybe that was a blessing in disguise.

Since he was unable to move up in the draft, Jordan selected Mike Smith from the University of Louisiana Monroe. Smith only played 17 games his rookie season and was waived before the start of the 2001-02 season. You might consider giving him a pass on this one, since it was a second round pick and the 2000 NBA Draft was one of the weakest in the league's history, but keep in mind that Eddie House, Michael Redd, Eduardo Najera and Brian Cardinal were all taken within the next ten picks. Grade: F

Traded Isaac Austin to Vancouver for Obinna Ekezie, Felipe Lopez, Cherokee Parks and Dennis Scott.

Jordan's first major move of his tenure was effectively a salary dump. Austin had come to D.C. just over a year before as part of a deal that sent Ben Wallace, Tim Legler, Jeff McInnis and Terry Davis to Orlando. Although he couldn't undo the damage of that trade, Jordan was smart to get rid of Austin when he did. His production continued to decline with the Grizzlies, who swallowed the final two years and $11 million on his contract.

Unfortunately, Jordan didn't get much back from Vancouver, either. Lopez only played 47 games with the Wizards and was waived before the 2001-02 season, Ekezie and Parks would be traded again just three months later for Tyrone Nesby, and Dennis Scott retired before he played a game in Washington. Grade: C+

Traded Tracy Murray to Denver for Popeye Jones and second rounder in 2002.

Murray made it clear during the offseason that he wanted out. Considering Jordan didn't have many options, flipping Murray for Jones wasn't the worst swap ever, but he wasn't quite getting market value either. He'd be the first in a long line of bangers Jordan would bring in to be his Charles Oakley, until he finally gave up and brought in Charles Oakley to do the job. Grade: C

2000-01 Season

Traded Cherokee Parks and Obinna Ekezie to the Clippers for Tyrone Nesby

Parks and Ekezie were thrown in the Isaac Austin trade as salary filler and got shipped to L.A. less than a month into the season for Nesby. Nesby provided some nice defense and little else, which was still an upgrade from what they were getting with Parks and Ekezie. After Nesby's stint with the Wizards, he went to Lithuania to continue playing basketball and rapping in his free time. Grade: B-

Traded Juwan Howard, Calvin Booth and Obinna Ekezie for Courtney Alexander, Etan Thomas, Hubert Davis, Christian Laettner and Loy Vaught.

It was clear by the time that Jordan took over that Juwan Howard wasn't going to live up to the 7 year, $105 million contract he signed in 1996 and fans knew it. The situation was getting more and more toxic as the team got worse under Leonard Hamilton. The time had come for a full demolition, and Jordan found a way to jump start it by shipping Howard to Dallas. Washington took back three more manageable contracts with Vaught, Laettner and Davis and also picked up a young Etan Thomas and Courtney Alexander, who would be the last Wizard to be named Rookie of the Month until John Wall received the honor in January 2011. Grade: B

Waived Rod Strickland.

Mike Bibby wasn't the first player to leave money on the table to get out of Washington. Strickland agreed to a buyout for only $2.5 million of the $5 million left on his contract so he could sign with Portland for their playoff run. It probably helped that Jordan and Strickland both had the same agent. (Thanks David Falk!) Grade: C

2001 Offseason

Fired Leonard Hamilton, Hired Doug Collins

Jordan put Leonard Hamilton out of his misery after a 19-63 season and replaced him with Collins, who Jordan knew from their time together in Chicago. He was a solid choice for a team filled with veterans, but probably wasn't the ideal guy to have when you wind up with the top overall pick...Grade: C-

Drafted Kwame Brown with the first overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft.

If Jordan was looking for a competitor reminiscent of himself, he saw glimpses of one that June day as the 6'11", 250-pound Brown repeatedly lowered his thick shoulders and dismantled the 235-pound Chandler one-on-one. When the Wizards said they had seen enough, Brown walked over to Jordan, his hero, and vowed, "If you draft me first, I'll never disappoint you." Before turning away, the teenager offered a prediction for a one-on-one showdown in the not-so-distant future: "And I'll beat you."

Let's be honest, even if every other move was an A move, this pick ruined the Jordan era. If we're being fair, Kwame is a probably a C- player, but when he's taken with the top overall pick ahead of a future defensive player of the year (Tyson Chandler) who was taken with the second pick and the rookie of the year who was taken third (Pau Gasol), the mistake amplifies itself to the point where it overshadows everything else. Grade: F

Traded the rights to Pedrag Drobnjak to Seattle for Bobby Simmons

Drobnjak had been selected by the Bullets in the second round of the 1997 Draft and was finally ready to take his talents to the states, but Jordan decided he'd rather have a rookie of his own picking, and shipped him to Seattle so he could take Bobby Simmons. Jordan wound up with a far better player in the deal but wasn't able to reap many of the benefits. Simmons only started five games in two years in Washington before he signed with the Clippers prior to the 2003-04 season and went on to win the Most Improved Player award in 2004-05 and sign a 5 year, $47 million deal with the Bucks that offsesason. Grade: C+

Signed Tyronn Lue to a two-year, $3.5 million deal

Lue was the first notable free agent signing of the Jordan era. MJ still couldn't do a whole lot in the 2001 offseason because of limited cap space, but he was able to bring aboard Lue, who had won two titles with the Lakers. Lue provided everything you could ask for from a backup point guard. He kept the offense running smoothly, knocked down his open shots and provided reliable defense. Grade: B+

Traded Laron Profit and future 1st round pick to Orlando in exchange for Brendan Haywood

Even though Jordan whiffed with the top overall pick, he still found a good young center from the 2001 Draft thanks to this trade. With Kwame Brown, Etan Thomas and Haywood in the fold, the Wizards were shaping up to have a decent young frontcourt:

Kwame and Etan may not have panned out the way we hoped, but Haywood wound up being a solid center in Washington for almost a decade. Consider this:

  • Only five players in franchise history have played more games than Brendan Haywood.
  • Only three players in franchise history (Tim Legler, Antonio Daniels and Michael Smith) have a better career offensive rating than Haywood.
  • Only two players (Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes) have more offensive rebounds in franchise history than Haywood.
  • Only two players (Gheorghe Muresan and Jeff Ruland) have a higher career field goal percentage in franchise history than Haywood.
Grade: A-

Signed Michael Jordan to a 2 year, $2 million contract

Not really sure how to grade this deal. Jordan got some outstanding bang for his buck. But then again, he had exclusive negotiating rights with himself. Anyone else in Jordan's position would have done the same thing probably. Grade: ???

2001-02 Season

No transactions were made

Between the flurry of activity in the offseason and devoting lots of time to his second job (Basketball Player), Jordan didn't touch the roster during the season. Injuries kept the Wizards from making a run at a playoff seed, but it was still clear the Wizards needed to make some upgrades to give Jordan a final shot at a playoff run the following season.

2002 Offseason

Traded Courtney Alexander to Charlotte for a first round pick

With Jordan in the fold, Alexander lost most of his playing time after a solid rookie campaign and needed somewhere he could get more playing time. Jordan found a willing partner in Charlotte who gave Jordan the 17th overall pick. In terms of leveraging value, it was a great move. They got a first rounder for Alexander, who wound up out of the league by the end of 2004. Problem was, Jordan didn't solve anything with the pick. He took Juan Dixon with Charlotte's pick, who wound up in Alexander's spot stuck behind Jordan. Although Dixon graded better than most of the guys taken immediately after him, you wonder what MJ could have done if he'd traded down or simply reached to take Carlos Boozer. Grade: D+

Drafted Jared Jeffries, Rod Grizzard and Juan Carlos Navarro

Unfortunately for Jordan, picking 11th in the 2002 Draft put him on the wrong side of the talent cliff in that year's class. Amare Stoudemire and Caron Butler were taken with the two picks immediately before Jordan took Jared Jeffries. Jeffries has gone on to have a respectable NBA career, and you have to go all the way down to pick 23 to find a player with a better career (Tayshaun Prince).

Rod Grizzard was waived by the Wizards before he ever got a chance to play with the team and Juan Carlos Navarro stayed in Spain after he was drafted until 2007. When he came stateside, he was traded to Memphis for a protected first-round pick. Navarro had a solid rookie season with the Grizzlies in 2007-08 but wound up signing back in Spain during the offseason. The Wizards ended up trading that protected first round pick back to Memphis as part of the deal to acquire Javaris Crittenton. Grade: C-

Signed Larry Hughes to 3 year, $15 million deal

With Howard, Richmond and Strickland off the books, Jordan finally had some cap space to pursue some bigger free agents. Surprisingly, his first move was to sign Hughes, who had largely been a disappointment after being taken with the 8th overall pick in the 2000 NBA Draft. Even more puzzling was his decision to add another guard to a rotation that was already stuffed with Jordan, Richard Hamilton (who ended up becoming Jerry Stackhouse), Tyronn Lue, Chris Whitney and the recently drafted Juan Dixon.

Hughes would up averaging over 31 minutes per game in his first season with Washington, but still faced many of the same struggles he faced in Philadelphia and Golden State. After Jordan left, Hughes played the best ball of his NBA career over the next two seasons with Gilbert Arenas, including a selection to the All-Defensive team in 2005, before taking his talents to Cleveland that summer. We'll give Jordan the benefit of the doubt and assume Hughes was brought in more to be part of the post-Jordan era than to bolster Jordan's final run as a player. Grade: B

Signed Bryon Russell to a 1 year, $1.4 million deal

Russell's play had begun to dip in his final season in Utah and Jordan was able to get his former nemesis to Washngton on a cheap deal. He didn't do any better with Washington than he did in his final season with Utah, but for the price he got him at, it's hard to complain too much. Grade: C

Traded Richard Hamilton, Hubert Davis and Bobby Simmons to Detroit for Jerry Stackhouse, Brian Cardinal and Ratko Varda

The move was what it was. Jordan cashed in his chips with some of his better young players to make a good push in his final season, and Stackhouse was a slight upgrade over Hamilton for the 2002-03 season. In terms of meeting his objective, Jordan succeeded. Of course, he wound up sacrificing Hamilton, who would have been a great player to build around once Jordan was gone. Worse yet, he ended up waiving Brian Cardinal, who would go on to sign with Golden State and have a career year.

The Wizards were still able to salvage some value out of the deal when they traded Stackhouse as part of the deal that landed Antawn Jamison, but it still doesn't justify Jordan sacrificing the future of the team for an ill-fated run at glory and missing out on Cardinal. Grade: D+

Signed Bobby Simmons and Charles Oakley to minimum deals

Simmons was waived by Detroit shortly after being traded in the Stackhouse deal and wound up back in Washington before the start of the season. Much like his rookie season, Simmons struggled to find a consistent role and would leave for Los Angeles, where he'd blossom with the Clippers.

Oakley didn't have much left to offer other than six fouls a night, but Jordan gave his former teammate one last shot to contribute. He would finish the season with more fouls (90) than points (74) during his 42 games in Washington. Grade: D

Traded Chris Whitney to Denver for George McCloud

Chris Whitney was still a serviceable guard, but found himself on the wrong end of the logjam at guard as training camp was closing down. There weren't many teams interested in bringing on a point guard so late into training camp, which forced the Wizards to settle for McCloud, who never played a game with the Wizards. Grade: F

Closing Thoughts

  • Like every other NBA decision maker, the ultimate success of your tenure is dictated by how well you draft. Jordan's three best picks were Kwame Brown, Jared Jeffries and Juan Dixon. Everyone else he drafted played a season or less in the NBA.
  • It was pretty clear Jordan was trying to build the Wizards in the same mold the Bulls were built, investing their talent and money in perimeter players and primarily relying on grinders down low to set solid screens and prevent easy points in the paint. Yes, he invested his top pick in Kwame Brown, but that was in large part because Kwame fit the mold of what Jordan was looking for, and there wasn't a perimeter player worthy of the top pick.
  • Something to think about: The Bulls got the 2nd overall pick in the NBA Draft by trading Elton Brand to the Clippers. Logic dictates Jordan could have had Brand if he'd been willing to give up the top pick. Hard to imagine a team centered around Jordan, Brand and Hamilton/Stackhouse missing the playoffs.
  • Surprisingly, Jordan was pretty solid with free agents during his time in D.C. He got two good value signings in Lue and Hughes and kept enough cap space open to allow the Wizards to sign Gilbert Arenas after he left.